George Ellison and colleagues from UJ's academic development and support division had access to unreleased SA data from the latest Afrobarometer survey, conducted in 1,381 households in May and June 2021.
Reporting their findings in a preprint that has not yet been peer-reviewed, they said respondents living in shacks were much more likely to say they had not been able to comply with lockdown restrictions or had found it difficult to do so.
Many of them did not have access to an indoor toilet, for example, and had to mingle with neighbours while making their way to communal toilets.
“There is little evidence that the SA authorities sought to work with them to develop alternatives to lockdown restrictions that are at best impracticable and at worst punitive for those who rely on casual, flexible, informal and opportunistic sources of in-person (as opposed to virtual or online) work,” said Ellison and his colleagues.
This also applied to “those living in contexts where space is at a premium, and where access to clean water, toilet facilities and food necessitate levels of social interaction that require them to breach such restrictions”.
The researchers added: “It is frankly astonishing that the constraints these households face were overlooked.
“The extraordinary disconnect between what policymakers expect and what shack dwellers can achieve has led to withering attacks on SA’s emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic.